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Illinois Lawmakers Overhaul Capital Punishment System

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(KWMU File Photo)

By AP/IL Public Radio/KWMU

Springfield, Ill. –

A vote Wednesday by the Illinois House means historic changes to that state's death penalty system, in which 17 men were wrongly convicted, are now law.

The Illinois Supreme Court now has more power to toss out unjust verdicts. Mentally retarded suspects can't be sentenced to die, and there are new guidelines regarding police line-ups, including a requirement to record them.

The 115-0 vote by the Illinois House was actually an override of a veto by Governor Rod Blagojevich. He had objected to one part of the measure, but a compromise was reached. That part was over how to punish police officers who commit perjury. The General Assembly passed seperate legislation dealing with just that issue; the governor is expected to sign that.

Last year, Illinois' then-governor George Ryan emptied the state's death row. That's because at least 17 men were wrongfully convicted; which sparked Ryan to suspend all executions in 2000. He called for experts to study the issue and make recommendations, many of which are incorporated in the new law.

The new law will allow judges to rule out the death penalty in cases that rest largely on testimony from a single eyewitness or police informant. And it gives condemned people more freedom to clear their names with newly discovered evidence.

Gov. Blagojevich says it's too soon to know whether the changes will mean anything, which is why he's keeping the moratorium on executions in place.

To hear Illinois Public Radio's Bill Wheelhouse's report on the reforms, click on the 'listen' link above.

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